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Building Old Main As A Gingerbread Wonderland

‘Tis the season to get festive! Now that December has started, it’s more than acceptable to start watching Christmas classics, listen to some Wham!, and decorate gingerbread houses. And as the end of the semester inches closer, I felt like I needed to take a break from worrying about work and exams and indulge in these activities.

I’m a stress baker, so making gingerbread houses fit perfectly into my end-of-semester schedule, and I began my journey brainstorming what gingerbread extravaganza I could create. Walking across campus in the snow made me think about how some of the most iconic Penn State landmarks could be much more festive, providing me my gingerbread subject matter: Old Main.

If I was going to make Old Main out of gingerbread, the kits you can get at the grocery store just wouldn’t work. I needed to make the gingerbread myself. I did my research, found a recipe for construction gingerbread, and got started with some gingerbread Old Main blueprints.

I was told that this could be too complicated of a project to take on, but I pushed past the gingerbread nonbelievers and put on my architect hat (which just so happened to be a Santa hat).

After looking at some photos of Old Main to base my blueprints on, I realized that I was getting myself into a multi-day creative endeavor, and damn it, I wanted to do Dear Old State some justice! I cut all my blueprint pieces with care and calculated how many batches of gingerbread I would need to bake.

While planning out the pieces for Old Main, I realized I had two problems. Old Main on its own didn’t have enough of a wow factor, and I live a sad, gluten-free life. I didn’t want to drown in gingerbread, especially since I can’t even eat it, but I also needed an architectural marvel to compliment Old Main.

After a quick call with my mom, I came up with a game plan: I would make a gingerbread Obelisk with gluten-free gingerbread. That way, I could test the gluten-less structural integrity and give Old Main a friend that wouldn’t be too much of an added challenge.

I spent a good few hours baking all the pieces for my gingerbread masterpiece on day two of the extravaganza. I rolled out the dough and scored all the shapes I needed into the dough before I baked it.

Unfortunately, gluten-free was not the way to go for a big project like Old Main, but it worked out nicely for the Obelisk and made the two and a half batches of dough a little less expensive.

After taking the cookies out of the oven, I made sure they were all cut to the right size and I left them to cool overnight.

Let me just say, I now know exactly why people buy the premade gingerbread house kits. Baking gingerbread for a whole day and trying to get the shapes right is exhausting. There was no way I could bake and build in one day.

The next day I woke up wide-eyed and ready for my engineering skills to shine. I got out my piping bags and icing and found some sturdy cardboard to set my masterpieces on. The Obelisk was a good starting point to warm up. It was pretty straightforward to build the skeleton, but it needed to really look like the obelisk with all the stones from different geological time periods.

To achieve this look, I cut up some Hershey minis and broke apart some leftover gingerbread to patchwork up the sides of the tower. Then to top it off, I added a strand of lights wrapping around it and a yellow gummy candy as a star so it could look like a Christmas tree.

Once my Obelisk was finished, I mentally prepared myself to put together Old Main. I was worried that the building wouldn’t hold up to well with 24 pieces total.

I started with the base of Old Main and the side roofs that the bell tower sits between. Yes, I know the middle panel looks like it’s broken, but I promise it’s not — the cracks are just from my attempt to make stripes on the panel that looked like the big pillars at the front of Old Main.

Next, I filled in the middle roof with the bell tower. Almost immediately after precariously perching the bell tower on top of Old Main, my worst fears came true. The bell tower fell off. Yes, I cried.

Half out of discouragement and half out of determination, I chugged along and built the bell tower again, but this time on a plate and not on top of Old Main. I know it looks a little rough, but I promise it’s because it fell over. Don’t hurt its feelings!

Still too scared to put the bell tower back on, I decided to decorate the front of Old Main. I added some cute lights, windows, gumdrop bushes, tiny gingerbread people out front, and I piped on white icing in to give the pillars more definition.

My wonderful roommate helped me with my bell tower issue by suggesting I use a can as support since the inside of the base was empty. They can fit perfectly, and the bell tower sat at just the right height without putting too much pressure on the main structure.

I was nearly done, but my final product needed a bit more festivity, so I piped on some frosting snow sprinkled with crushed peppermints, gave Old Main a clock that tells all of State College that it’s OS-o’clock, and put wreaths and candy canes in all the windows.

Would I recreate Penn State’s campus in gingerbread again? No, but that’s not to say I didn’t have a blast creating these. For the next few days, I will be admiring them, and when studying for finals gets a little too hard, I have a sweet treat to snack on to further avoid any and all responsibilities.

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About the Author

Mackenna Yount

Mackenna is a sophomore food science major from Manitou Springs, Colorado and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She loves food, is addicted to coffee, and can give you random facts or bad jokes that you didn't ask for. Ask her to bake gluten-free goodies so she has an excuse to try out new cupcake flavors. Mackenna can be contacted via Twitter @mackennayount (especially if you want to show off your best dad jokes) or you can shoot her an email at [email protected]

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